[Editor's Note: I'm pleased to announce that Grant Ritchey has agreed to join SBM as a regular. He'll be writing about dental science and pseudoscience every four weeks on Sunday. (I swear, we'll get up to seven day a week publishing if it kills me—or the other bloggers.) Grant will be starting with science, but I'm sure he'll soon be discussing all the sorts of claims about dentistry and dental disease that are—how shall I put it?—less than science-based soon enough.]
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a sleep-related breathing disorder in which the airway is partially or completely blocked during sleep. Although little or no air is flowing, the person continues to attempt to breathe. Typically, cessations in breathing last longer than 10 seconds per episode, but can last over a minute and usually occur multiple times during sleep. This can lead to poor sleep quality and precipitous drops in blood oxygenation levels over an extended period of time. This potentially life-threatening condition is frighteningly prevalent, especially in adults over 40, and it is estimated that 80-90% of OSA goes undiagnosed, further compounding the problem.
When a person experiences multiple apneic episodes during the night, the brain responds by alerting the body, resulting in increased efforts to breathe, gasping, and arousal from sleep. These frequent waking events, combined with lowered oxygen levels, can lead to the signs, symptoms, and sequelae of obstructive sleep apnea. Typically, OSA sufferers snore loudly, then are silent for 10-30 seconds as the airway is blocked. This is followed by choking, snorting, or gasping sounds when their airway reopens.